Pre-Performance Tips

Mar 25, 2015

Last week we talked about how making music with others can be a vital part of your ongoing musical education. Playing with others can teach you a lot of things that learning alone would never touch. And there is so much more than just the learning experience. There is just something about being there, in the moment, making music with your friends. You pull energy from one another, play off each other’s sounds, find a groove, and just jam. And for many people, this is all they really want out of making music; a good time with their friends, doing something they all love. But for others, jam sessions and the like are just a step towards something more: performing. Whether you’re going to be performing with a school or community band, or if it’s your own four piece garage rock band, performing for an audience can be a stressful situation, even for experienced musicians. So with that in mind, this week we’re going to take a look at some tips and tricks to help you prepare.

Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Our first few tips come before you even arrive at the venue for your performance. The very first thing you should do before a show is undoubtedly the single most important thing you can do to prepare: practice, practice, practice. Knowing your part inside and out and having confidence in your ability is the absolute best thing you can do to help with any performance butterflies.

Now, assuming you’ve got your part well rehearsed, we can move on to some of the less obvious tips. Another good idea for before the performance is to make sure you get a good night’s sleep and have a light meal. This sounds simple enough, but, as I’m sure some of the more anxious musicians out there can attest, these are easy thing to let slide. Anxiety and nervousness can make it difficult to sleep, and can steal your appetite, but at the same time, getting to bed decently early the night before, and trying to eat a small meal can help keep those negative emotions in check. Next up before heading to the performance, is getting dressed. Again, seems like a little thing, but dressing appropriately can give you a nice bump up in the confidence department. And this is true no matter what kind of band you are playing with. If it’s a school or community band, most members will dress in white and black, almost like a uniform, creating a strong connection between the performers. If it’s a rock band, then the rules are much more lax, and you can have fun with your outfit. Just remember, dress for success!

Ok, you’ve slept, eaten, dressed yourself, and gotten to the venue. Now’s when the butterflies are probably really starting to kick in, but that’s ok. Nervousness is a common and expected response to performing. Even people who go on stage night after night can have serious stage fright issues. Big name entertainers like Elton John, Adele, and Barbra Streisand all suffer from debilitating stage fright. In an interview with Connie Chung, Italian Operatic Tenor Andrea Becelli was asked, “When you perform on stage, are you nervous?” He replied, “Oh, it’s difficult to explain how much. I have big, big stage fright.” Anxiety and stage fright can happen to anyone, from a beginner to a famous international recording artist. What is important to take away from this is that it is possible to be nervous and still but on a great performance. If you play with passion and dedication your audience will be a lot more forgiving than you are to yourself. No one will notice mistakes if you don’t draw attention to them, and every one there is rooting for your success. So take a deep breath, and try to relax.

Now comes the actual playing part, but don’t worry, our tips for preparation don’t stop when the music starts. As your performance is getting ready to begin you’ll probably have a few moments to warm up your instrument and your body. Warming up properly is very important to a good performance, as it ensures that both you and your instrument are in proper working order for the show. Trying to play cold can have a number of possible negative outcomes, depending on the kind of instrument you play. You could hurt yourself or you could damage your instrument. While both of these outcomes are unlikely, the most common problem comes from the fact that a cold instrument usually doesn’t produce the same tones as a warm instrument. During warm up it’s a good idea to play some scales, or short flourishes, making sure your fingers are nice and nimble. Warm up is not the time to be frantically practicing that one part you don’t quite have right yet. The time for practice is done, and trying to cram in one last session before the performance commences is just going to draw attention to you when you get to the trouble spot.

Our last tip of the day has to do with reacting to other members of the band during your performance. This is something that might be a little different, depending on the kind of band you’re playing with, but in general it’s a good idea to keep your reactions to a bare minimum. This goes for reactions to both good and bad things. For example, high-fiving your buddy in the percussion section after a difficult passage is not appropriate behaviour for a performance. Similarly, on the other hand, reacting at all to any mistake made by a band member is considered poor form, and draws unnecessary attention to someone who already knows they made a mistake. This even goes beyond reacting to things that have happened, and includes things that will happen. An example of this would be an upcoming solo. Your friend has been working on this solo for weeks, but they just can’t seem to nail it down. During the performance you might feel tempted to turn and look at them when their solo comes up. You’re probably just trying to give them support, but what you are really doing is drawing more attention to them. Imagine trying to do something you’re not confident at with people staring at you, waiting to see if you can finally get it right. It can add to someone’s already difficult situation and can be distracting to the audience. There is, of course, a time and place to congratulate each other on a great performance, but that is only after it is over and you have cleared the stage.

Performing for a real, live audience can be a very stressful situation, regardless of how much experience you have. The best ways to handle the stress and anxiety is to make sure you are prepared. Everyone prepares a little different, in their own unique ways, but some things are universal. Always remember to practice, try to have confidence in yourself and your ability, you’re the one who got you to this point after all, and above all else have fun.